Dear Dr. Poussaint:
I'm the mother of two daughters and a very fine son. My problem is with my oldest daughter. She has been a constant problem since the death of my husband (he was her stepfather and the only father that she knew at the time.) She refuses to do what I say.
I send her to school and she cuts classes and sometimes doesn't bother to go at all. Then she would come home as if she had been there all day. When I found out what was happening, I tried to put a stop to it. I beat her, punished her and talked to her -- you name it, I did it.
I have a youth counselor in my neighborhood who worked with Susan when she was involved in a money theft at her previous school. We put Susan on a conduct sheet where she had to have the teachers' signatures on the sheet was proof that she was in class all day.
She started forging the teachers' names and was still cutting classes or not even going to school at all. She ran away from home again after being punished. This time, though, she picked up a petty larceny charge with one of her ex-schoolmates.
We asked the judge to put her away until her trial date so that she would have time to think about what she is doing to herself.
They assured me that she would be supervised at one of the shelter homes for juveniles and that she would not be able to run away. Well, she ran away and was picked up again for petty larceny (shoplifting). Her probation officer has informed me that now they will put her in total confinement.
My question is why don't the courts listen to us parents? We know what our kids take us through. All I wanted for them to do was to give her the psychological test that was to be done and find out why she is self-destructive. I love my daughter and I've done about all I can do to help. Now I need help. E. C. J., Washington, D.C. Dear E. C. J.:
I would be the last one to suggest that the juvenile offenders services in most states offer adequate services. However, in many instances, they are reluctant to confine a teenager who may be helped with less drastic measures. Often a community-based shelter may provide a better opportunity for management and rehabilitation.
Total confinement in a maximum-security detention center may bring your daughter into contact with hardened delinquents, which then may lead her into harsher crimes unless she receives proper counseling in a group or individually. I hope her facility will provide her with such a program.
It seems highly likely that your daughter (you didn't mention her age, but I will assume that she is about 15) is suffering from emotional problems and is acting them out antisocially. She doesn't seem to be a primary juvenile delinquent.
You mention that she was an obedient child until her stepfather died. This was a great loss for her. She was probably grief-stricken and angry. It's not uncommon in such situations for a child to experience difficulty at home and school. Her stepfather may have served as a source of authority and discipline for her. After his death she probably experienced a loss of self-control and sense of purpose. Such youngsters need plenty of support to help them express their grief and then re-adapt.
Your harsh treatment, the beatings and punishment, was not the wisest way to deal with your daughter.
You may be from the old school, but it's largely accepted by most psychologists today that harsh physical punishment doesn't help a wayward adolsecent. In fact, it can further damage, him or her. It is best to appeal to your daughter's sense of reason.
Right now you should work closely with the court and try to assist your daughter in obtaining psychological counseling. Visit her frequently. Try not to be completely condemning of her. Certainly she has good points which you should focus on. Compliment her for her good behavior without any attitude of condescension.
It would also help if you apologized to her for the beatings and pledge that you won't do it again. If you wish to continue to beat her, you yourself should receive counseling and help in learning how to manage her. It is paramount that you alter your behavior as well as your approach to her if you expect her to change her behaviour. Ultimately, she will respect you more if you are also able to admit when you have been wrong and out of control.
If you truly love your daughter, you definitely should not give up on her yet.